We continue our study of remonstrance with a series of posts that grew out of my participation in the Tenth East-West Philosophers Conference in Honolulu in May 2011. The theme was “Business Practice in a Global World,” and it was an exhilarating ten days of discussion and contention with philosophers, administrators, and entrepreneurs. My own work there centered on remonstrance, and my specific task was to convey the richness of the concept to philosophers, on the one had, and practicing business people, on the other. The next dozen or so posts under this “remonstrance” header will deal with that material.
|[a] Sunset at Tiananmen RF|
Remonstrance 4 Remonstrance 5 Remonstrance 6
Remonstrance 7 Remonstrance 8 Remonstrance 9
Remonstrance (9)—Not Cliché (or you have missed the point)
Because Prince Ba of Lu had united his friends into a faction to harm his elder
brother, the Wu sovereign despised him in his heart. He told the shizhong, Sun
Jun, “My sons are not civil; my subjects are divided. We will suffer a debacle like
that of the Yuan clan, and we will be the joke of all under heaven. If I let one
ascend, how can we avoid disaster?”
When the question concerned the principles of government, the minister had a right—an obligation—to speak out to the sovereign, sometimes gently harassing and tugging at robes, in what we might read now in mildly humorous fashion.
This theme could be repeated almost endlessly with Comprehensive Mirror examples. In this passage, Xin Pi, a modest historical personage to say the least, gained historiographical stature, and spoke even when the ruler was angry and “all the ministers at court shuddered.” This was the essence of the remonstrance ideal: loyally respecting the authority of those above, but defending the principles that governed all under heaven.
|[b] All under heaven RF|
There is a reality and power—even a personal turmoil—that goes far beyond exhausted classical quotations for those who experienced the consequences of criticizing, of losing, of leaving. It is not hard to see how quickly some of these images became cliché when repeated over many hundreds of years of historical documents. “Carrying one’s coffin” can seem quaint and even somewhat humorous, if we read enough accounts that use almost exactly the same language.
This is a problem of language—and history…and historiography. It is not, as Marcel Granet might well argue, one that should diminish the concept of remonstrance. No one has ever made this point more clearly for me (and I am eternally grateful) than Hoyt Cleveland Tillman, who was the moderator at a conference panel at Arizona State University in 2000, when I gave one of my first papers on remonstrance. I had spoken of cliché, and had mentioned how difficult it was to convey the seriousness of it to political scientists, on the one side, who sometimes saw it as just another kind of silly idealization, and literary scholars, on the other, who saw it “merely” as a trope or a literary device. In his comments at the end of the panel, Tillman told the audience that the seriousness of remonstrance should never be doubted.
“Just think about the young man standing in front of the tank in 1989,” he said.
 Zizhi tongjian,  2386.
Sima Guang. Zizhi Tongjian [資治通鑑; Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government]. Zhonghua Shuju, 1956.